If you see bright red, orange and yellow mushrooms in unimproved turf, you are probably looking at waxcaps (Hygrocybe s.l.).
These attractive nitrogen-sensitive fungi are officially recognised as species of conservation concern across Europe and in Australia. However, in order to understand their distribution and ecology, and hence formulate management guidelines, a reliable and rigorous taxonomy is required.
At the start of the Defra-funded ‘Project Waxtongue’ – a DNA sequence- and morphology-based study of waxcaps and earthtongues involving Kew and Aberystwyth University – there were around 50 waxcap species recorded in Britain. Three years later and the ‘Waxtongue’ analysis has raised this number closer to 100.
An analysis of the segregate genus Gliophorus has been undertaken, with a focus on one of its species complexes G. psittacina (parrot waxcap). This is well-known amongst field mycologists for its rainbow-coloured fruit bodies. Two distinct species of Gliophorus have recently emerged from this analysis, and these have been named and described by Kew mycologists.
One of the new species, G. reginae, forms royal purple fruit bodies, and so a name commemorating the Diamond Jubilee and the 60th anniversary of the Queen’s Coronation seemed appropriate. The other had previously masqueraded in Europe under the epithet perplexus. ‘Waxtongue’ showed that this name should be reserved for a North American taxon, and so the name G. europerplexus was coined.
Item from Dr Martyn Ainsworth (Senior Mycologist, RBG Kew)
Kew Scientist, issue 44
Ainsworth, A.M., Cannon, P.F. & Dentinger, B.T.M. (2013). DNA barcoding and morphological studies reveal two new species of waxcap mushrooms (Hygrophoraceae) in Britain. MycoKeys 7: 45–62. [Download the article (pdf)]
- Defra project report – Project Waxtongue: Systematics, barcoding and ecology of fungi from waxcap grasslands [Read the full project report on the Defra website]
- Kew News – Waxcap conservation
- Kew Science Project – Waxtongue; UK fungi of conservation concern
- BBC Radio 4 –Waxcap grasslands
- BBC News - On the hunt for some of the UK's strangest fungi